Review: Severn and the Day She Silenced the World

by Janet Wilson
Second Story Press, 2014

SevernSevern Cullis-Suzuki, daughter of Tara Cullis and David Suzuki, has been an advocate for environmental awareness and social justice for decades. In 1992, at age twelve, Severn gave a powerful speech at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro: a moment when the words of a child held the leaders of the world at attention. Severn and the Day She Silenced the World, a new volume in the Kids’ Power series, traces the events leading up to Severn’s speech.

Although Severn is the main character, she is not alone in her quest to make adults understand children’s concerns about the state of the world. Readers meet Severn’s family and her friends, the girls who form ECO (the Environmental Children’s Organization): Vanessa Suttie, Michelle Quigg, Morgan Geisler, and Tove Fenger. We see how hard the girls work to attend the Earth Summit. The author makes no pretence that activism is easy: rather, she emphasizes how strong, patient, and committed activists must be. But this point is not meant to discourage readers; instead, the author demonstrates that anyone can get involved in a cause and that even small contributions make a positive difference.

The lead-up to Severn’s speech forms the core of the book, but the text has much more to offer. We learn about the work that goes on behind the scenes — the letter writing, the grant applications, the fundraising, and the fun of working with friends toward an important goal. We also see that the journey can be a struggle: Severn faces setbacks, and people say no to her before others say yes. These are important points for any activist to understand. Readers will likely want to hear Severn’s speech, which is easily found online. Those inspired by the speech may then want to consult the book’s excellent back matter, which includes a glossary, resources for further research, and follow-up information on the girls of ECO.

The book is a work of creative nonfiction, and the author explains that while the events of the story are “true,” some elements of the narrative — such as the dialogue and people’s memories — involve conjecture and reconstruction. I was pleased to see this gloss on the conventions of a genre that is still not well understood; I felt it added to the book’s credibility.

I greatly enjoyed Severn and the Day She Silenced the World and hope it becomes a fixture in classrooms, school libraries, and public libraries. It is readable and accessible, and it communicates a vital message: not only that kids can accomplish a great deal when they work together, but that it’s important for kids to be passionate about the Earth and social justice for the sake of their own futures.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, June 2014.

Review: The Great Bear Sea

by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read
Orca Book Publishers, 2013

greatbearsea_214The Great Bear Sea refers to the waters off the coast of British Columbia, from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle. It is the offshore complement to the Great Bear Rainforest, one of Canada’s most environmentally significant ecosystems. The book The Great Bear Sea surveys life in this environment, from plankton and bivalves to otters and whales, and explains the interconnectedness of the plants and animals that live in these waters. The text complements the authors’ previous collaborations The Salmon Bears and The Sea Wolves and provides an excellent introduction to this valuable, vulnerable place.

The book is well packaged for its intended audience and beyond. Based on the formula of the previous books in the series, The Great Bear Sea presents a colourful mix of informational text and contextual photography. The text is loaded with sidebars and fun facts — the kinds of natural-history trivia many readers love to pull from books like this. The photography is generally of high quality and often (self-consciously) emphasizes the “cute” qualities of marine creatures, particularly of seals, sea lions, and otters. There are many stunning shots of individual species, but also some photos of humans interacting with the natural world in various ways.

The book advocates thoughtfully for conservation and environmental protection. The text refers explicitly to a proposal that will see tar-sands oil shipped through the Great Bear Sea, and reminds readers of the consequences of over-fishing, extirpation of species, clearcut logging, climate change, and other human-induced environmental problems. The book is not preachy or strident, however; it presents facts, offers perspectives and context, and encourages readers to think, to learn more, and to ask questions. The bibliography was not in place in the copy I read; I hope the authors will direct readers to an array of resources to further their explorations of this area.

The Great Bear Sea is an important book and should be widely read, particularly by readers outside of British Columbia, who may not fully understand the complexity of this very special place. The book makes an articulate plea on behalf of the creatures — including humans — who live in this exquisite, ecologically sensitive region.

 

This review was originally published in Resource Links, , October 2013.